Midlifers live their dreams by changing careers

Miele, 69, loved painting during his younger years, but after he became an attorney in 1964, he had little time for it. But he went to art museums and galleries and started collecting American folk art. He got to know prominent collectors, dealers, auction personnel and members of the media, he says. "Unwittingly, I was laying the foundation for a midlife career change," he says.

As a lawyer, Miele represented big corporations in trials, but after more than 20 years in the profession, he felt he needed a new challenge. "In terms of my career, there weren't a whole lot of mountains left to climb. I had attained a lot of them at an early age, and there wasn't enough to sustain the enthusiasm for an extended period of time."

So in 1986, when an established art gallery owner asked him to partner with him on a new gallery, Miele quickly agreed. Several years later, Miele opened his own American folk art gallery on Madison Avenue.

Now, he works six days a week at the gallery, and although he doesn't make as much money now, he loves what he does.

Today's economy has been tough for his business, but there are ups and downs in the practice of law too, he says. "I would have reached mandatory retirement age (in the law practice) and been put out to pasture."

But he has no plans to retire. "I'm not going to wait around to die. When God comes down and tells me my time is up, I'll probably argue with him."

Cancer caused her to reassess

Bartan Kennedy of Stamford, Conn., 65, also has no plans to retire. She was a teen model and had dance training for 15 years, performing at Madison Square Garden and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show. She graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Theatre Academy in New York, where she took classes with Eva Gabor and puppeteer Shari Lewis.

Kennedy says she tried to get her "big break" but had to face the grim reality that she "wasn't talented enough to make it in such a competitive business."

Instead, she married her high school sweetheart, Bob Kennedy, raised four children, produced some school plays and became an assistant kindergarten teacher, which she calls a "wonderful rewarding career, which I continue to have after 26 years."

But after a bout with breast cancer at 50, Kennedy decided she still wanted to fulfill her dream of becoming a performer. She heard about an opportunity to tell stories to children at three local libraries. "A lot of times when you have a life-changing experience, you re-evaluate your life. I was happy in all areas of my life, but I thought this sounded like lots of fun, and at that time, I needed some fun."

So she began reading and telling stories, singing and dancing. She used her skills as a performer to enhance the children's experience. She does this four or five time a week. "My not-so-good singing is perfectly adequate for 3-year-olds," she says. "I am living my dream. At a time when many are thinking of retiring, I am just getting started. Broadway, here I come!"

Some people draw inspiration from their hobbies. Take Pat Riley of Janesville, Wis. She worked at a local hospital for 18 years as a data analyst and unit clerk, but at 44, she was tired of the daily grind. Her stress reliever and passion was quilting, so she decided to open a quilt shop.

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